Back on the Street

By Rebecca Barry Hill

Recognise the artist formerly known as John Barker?

"Johnny Barker," says Johnny Barker. "It sounds a bit more rock'n'roll."

You'd want a cool name if you were involved in as many projects as Johnny Barker. You'll know him as the lead singer of now-defunct band Jester, recall his voice from the theme tune for the fictional Air New Zealand Zephyrs band (the ad where the band played atop the Capitol building in LA), and hear him without realising through his session work for local musos Annabel Fay and Florence Hardigan.

You'll also see him star and sing in Lease, one of Peter Jackson's "wildcard" selected finalists in the 48Hours film contest, the finals of which screen on C4 on Sunday.

Tonight he gets formally introduced - for the second time - on Shortland Street. A few years after playing musician Jed Ferris, the guy who disrupted Waverly and Fergus' relationship, Barker has been recycled to play newbie nurse, Joey Henderson.

Is Johnny barking to have taken on so much?

"All the work that I've done in between has put me in a much better stead to take this on," he says.

Barker is obviously a good-looking, successful bloke but his new character is a dork.

"He's a little socially inept in not being able to communicate publicly - kind of like me," says Barker. This might sound odd coming from a guy who is so often in the spotlight but Barker says he was ill-prepared for people approaching him in the street, asking if he was "that guy".

"I had a minor meltdown. But over the years I've learned to take it in my stride and I've learned how to deal with it a little bit better.

"Luckily I was playing a nice character, because if I was playing a villain or something then people would judge you before they'd met you and give you a hard time. Especially playing gigs and stuff in the band and the crossover with music. It was difficult for me and the band as well but I got over that a long time ago."

Jed played guitar but there's no chance of a tune from Joey, and that's how Barker wants it to stay. Despite the Zephyrs song becoming so popular (it went to number three on the charts), Barker turned down an on-screen role. "I was so certain about my band's path and career that I didn't want to cross them over. We were playing such a different style of music and I didn't want to be yelled at as being the Air New Zealand guy. I would have made a huge amount of money because it got rolled over - I would have got paid four times that fee. So looking back, I could have made four albums for that band which has now turned to dust."

Still, one of the perks was the travel he was paid as contra. He skipped off to LA to check out the acting scene. Ironically, it was on his return that he won parts in "little, crappy, straight-to-DVD kind of films".

"I just finished one [playing the lead actress' fiance] which was awful. The director was this old man who was loving every opportunity to get lead actress' clothes off. Rather than spritzing people's skin to make them look sweaty, he'd grab a glass of water. There was this unspoken sleazy air about the whole thing."

Coming back to the Street was easier the second time because he was prepared for the fast turnaround, leaving him free to focus on his skills as an actor. Particularly in the comedy department.

"[Joey's] always getting himself in trouble by being overly confident and doing things without being told. I'm someone who knows nothing about medicine and now I'm using my hands to put in IVs."

After Shortland Street's extensive medical training sessions, Barker would be as useful as a solar-powered torch in an emergency. The medical terms caught on much better: "Has the streptokinase caused a cerebral bleed?"

He almost had a cerebral bleed the other day, by the sounds of it.

"I get to smash my head. I was on the floor in a pool of drool. I just read some new scripts and I'm going to get myself smacked up again. It's good fun."

Barker says he's been working harder as a musician than an actor. Aside from his work as a session musician, he's about to release an EP for his solo project, Sleepy Kid.

He's also part of Ghosts of Motat, an art and music collaboration, and the Silhouettes, a covers band with a weekly residence at the Crib on Ponsonby Rd.

Combined with the Shorty gig, he can expect a lot more hecklers then, surely?

"I've been preparing myself for it. Our drummer gave me the best advice: as soon as one jealous boyfriend or dickhead guy gives me a hard time, he'd be straight over the drums with fists flying. It sounds like it's going to be rock'n'roll."


Lowdown

Who: Johnny Barker, rock'n'roll actor
What: Shortland Street's nerdy new nurse, Joey Henderson
When: 7pm, TV2, weekdays. Also starring in 48 Hour Film competition finalist Lease on C4, 8.30pm, Sunday.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 22 Sep 2014 00:44:01 Processing Time: 937ms